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Law society seeks court order on Zuma’s signing of SADC protocol

THE Law Society of SA has gone to court in a bid to have President Jacob Zuma’s signing of a protocol that diminishes the mandate of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal declared unconstitutional.

The tribunal is the last avenue of redress for individuals in dispute with their governments and those who have exhausted their own countries’ justice systems.

The tribunal was effectively suspended in 2010, reportedly after political pressure from Zimbabwe, which refused to enforce its orders relating to unlawful land expropriations. At the SADC summit last year, heads of state signed a protocol, which allows the tribunal to hear disputes between member states, but not between states and their citizens as before.

Former co-chairman of the law society Max Boqwana said in an affidavit that members of the SADC Lawyers’ Association would bring similar court applications in their own countries. Under the previous protocol the tribunal was “an important forum for citizens … in the event that their domestic judicial system failed”, he said.

The president had “signed and/or voted in favour” of the protocol and it infringed citizens’ right of access to justice.

“All deliberations regarding review of the tribunal’s mandate were conducted solely by the heads of state (and SADC organs and officials), to the exclusion of citizens within SADC,” he said.

The president could not deprive citizens without their consultation. “This is a contravention of the Constitution,” he said.

The law society had asked for reasons and further information from the president and the justice minister, but had not received a response, Mr Boqwana said.

The law society’s co-chairmen Busani Mabunda and Richard Scott said all the cases that had come before the tribunal before it was effectively suspended were instituted by individuals. “No single case had been received from SADC member states. It is highly unlikely that states will make use of the tribunal to settle matters as they use diplomatic channels to do so.”